After a crazy week of frenzied activities trying to complete the agenda before us, the legislature adjourned on “drop dead day” Friday evening, April 3rd until April 29th when we come back for the wrap up, a.k.a. the “veto” session, which lasts to May 9th. On that day we adjourn sine die, meaning the 2009 session is officially over. On rare occasions a special session is called to dispose of an unusual problem, which is possible but not likely this year. The last task of the House and the Senate is to pass the omnibus appropriations bill, which authorizes payment for all expenditures agreed to during this session to keep the government functioning until the next session which begins January 2010.
The budgets for fiscal 2009 and 2010 developed by both chambers and sent to the Governor are tight, workable and responsible. Every agency, department and program is asked to do with less. Some programs were eliminated, others cut substantially (agricultural aid was cut up to 25%) and all others were reduced by 4.2 to 10% over the previous year, except for schools. K-12 lost .08% of revenue, demonstrating the importance the legislature assigned to basic education.
The Governor signed the 2009 budget into law but the 2010 budget will not be official until the omnibus bill has passed and it is also signed by whoever is Governor at the time. A new problem has arisen, namely receipts for March are down more than expected ($57million) and if the April shortfall is also greater than anticipated, we will be forced to revise the 2010 budget and find new sources of revenue or make further reductions.
I don’t get to enjoy all the free time of the recess but will return April 23 to work with the whole appropriation committee on finding solutions to our problems; we’ll go through the 279 page document to try and do so. I’m not complaining and I’m prepared to face the music if we have to make more cuts.
THE COMPLAINTS DEPARTMENT IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED
Perhaps I’m getting cranky in my old age or my skin needs to thicken but this session the messages of discontent and criticism of my stands and votes have been more vocal, strident and ad homonym than ever before. I understand that nobody wants a favorite program touched and I certainly don’t enjoy voting to deny anyone a penny. In this crisis everyone must help with tightening the belt. Messages asking to cut all other programs except the writer’s favorite are not helpful. I represent all constituents and fairness and decency require a measured approach. I wonder how anyone can agree to cut more from public safety, the disabled and children’s programs, for example, to avoid a reduction of a program they favor.
Most virulent complaints came from the education establishment which was cut the least amount. Several designated me as “anti-education” for voting for this budget. This type of accusation makes a rational discussion difficult. My children have advanced degrees, my seven grandchildren are in private schools at great expense and I have taught at the college level for almost 30 years and I\’m “against education”? I welcome divergent opinions and I’m willing to listen and consider alternate points of view, but we ought to communicate with respect and civility rather than vitriol. The next chance to blast me won’t occur until after omnibus.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2010 MEGA BUDGET
- It cuts State General Fund spending by 6.5% over 2009.
- Projects an ending balance of $150 million using current estimates of receipts
- Spends less than $14 million more than we’re bringing in (not perfect)
- Adopts K-12 funding reduction to less than .08%
- Increases higher education funding by 1.25% over 2009, but still a net reduction
- Protects the 2009 slider payments to cities and counties
- Adds $5 million back into the City and County Highway fund
- Spends $4 million on the physically disabled waiver
- Spends an additional $1.2 million on Children Initiative Fund on SCHIP expansion
- Continues the market pay adjustments
- Captures all federal stimulus funding
There is much to dislike in this bill and I hate that we have not eliminated the waiting lists for physical and educational disability clients. We fought hard in the House to do so and we added $16.2 million to the budget. The Senate cut the funds in half and the Governor did worse. This does not mean I can vote against the bill without finding where the money is coming from. Multiple committees and experts worked many weeks to get us this far. The pain is universal and to reject the bill over a single issue and stop the government from operating is irresponsible in my view.
…are hard to eliminate. At the end of each session we meet for many hours, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning trying to clean up left over bills to get them to the floor. This year we did five 12 hour days and came in an extra day to get much done of what had accumulated because of our preoccupation with the budget. A very bad habit is the bundling of bills when many different bills are combined into one. This can pose a real dilemma. Suppose you strongly support a part of a bill but oppose another part. You are forced to choose the lesser of two evils, and then hope you can fix what you object to in the next session. Why do we do these things? “Tradition.”
LATE TERM MECHANICS
During the final week once bills are passed in either Chamber, they go to the other for a vote. Almost always there are differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill. This means a conference committee is appointed which consists of the Chairman, Vice Chairman and a ranking member of the committee which worked the bill originally. The Senate sends its 3 members to these compromise hearings. When we find language acceptable to each, a conference committee report is prepared which must be accepted by both chambers. If it is not, it goes back for more deliberation. This also means that we must vote multiple times on the same bill. On rare occasions, a compromise cannot be found and the bill is dead until the next year. This happened to the smoking ban, two provisions of which became insurmountable. One was the issue of whether bars and restaurants should be allowed to set their own policy and the other the punishment for violating the provisions in the bill. I have committed to support restrictions on smoking and will vote for any reasonable bill that finally emerges. It seems that the all or nothing approach by smoking opponents backfired although we might yet get the bill on the floor during wrap up. Another bill which is temporarily dead is the abolition of the death penalty, which never made it out of committee.
Including consideration of adopting conference committee reports and final action, we voted over 120 times this week. For this reason I’ll summarize some of the notable, controversial and contentious bills only in this news letter. A compendium of all legislation will be published at the end of the session. If you want a hard copy contact my office. All passed bills are also on the state web site www.kslegislature.org.
We passed a comprehensive energy bill (more about this below), another late term abortion bill this one prohibiting the horrific procedure called “partial birth,” minimum wage legislation, and multiple tax exemptions and abatements, House Concurrent Resolutions.
Bills dealing with crimes and punishment went through as did the personal and family protection act. The milk labeling act was merged with 3 other bills dealing with pesticides and fertilizer and passed, as did a combination of bills dealing with all terrain vehicles and golf carts. Vanity license plates for veterans, supporters of the arts and “In God We Trust” were also supported. The Kansas False Claims Act creates civil as well as criminal action against the perpetrator.
Of special interest to the 43rd district is HB 2131 which creates a transportation revolving fund within the State Treasury, administered by the Department of Transportation to assist the city government of Gardner and Edgerton, and the County for transportation projects connected to the Intermodal. It passed 117-6. Except for the minimum wage bill, I voted for all of the above.
MIMIMUM WAGE ECONOMIC NONSENSE
This is the fourth year this legislation has come before the House. For the other party it has become a second religion to believe that you can reduce poverty by voting against the laws of economics. This year a number of Republicans tired of being beaten up over this issue joined to get SB160 passed. As an economist I’ve been arguing for the last four years to abolish the state minimum wage altogether for the following reasons:
Minimum wage measures are inflationary:
- They have a ratchet effect (if the lowest paid worker gets more money the next lowest will also expect to get more) that leads to more inflation.
- They eliminate the relationship between wage and productivity
- They represent an unwarranted government intervention in the competitive market economy which has made us the most prosperous nation in the history of the world.
- They kill jobs and especially for those who need them most; entry level positions for young people with few skills, if any.
The legislation is unnecessary. No one works for the Kansas minimum of $2.65/hour.
Trying to appeal to reason, I brought several studies to the floor, inviting proponents to see for themselves and to vote rationally rather than emotionally. To no avail the bill passed.
The tragedy is that with rising unemployment a smaller number of people will find work, that current hours worked may be reduced, that open positions be left vacant. What many don’t understand is that the number of dollars you get is much less important than what you can purchase with it. My first job was at $1.45/hour, but gas was 17 cents a gallon, coffee 5 cents and a t-bone steak $1.19 at Tads in Chicago. I believe I was better off without the legislation we passed than those making $7.25/hour, provided they can find a job.
IT’S NO SECRET: THERE ARE 2 SURE WAYS TO ESCAPE POVERTY
Work harder, work a second job. Bank the extra money. Avoid debt and live within your means. Work smarter and acquire more education or skills in demand. At this moment there is a severe shortage of nurses and other health care professionals. It takes 4 years post secondary education to become an RN, but once you have your license you have a well paying profession for life. Tired of school? Learn a trade. Carpenters, sheet metal workers and plumbers do well. It’s not easy but it’s preferable to having price controls on labor imposed by some bureaucrat.
It used to be the American way that one took responsibility for oneself, that one looked for and took advantage of opportunities. Vertical mobility made the US the land of unlimited possibilities others admired and which made me leave Europe and the social democratic, heavy handed government. I’m a Republican because I believe we are for more individualism and personal freedom and conservative because I want to preserve the opportunities for my grandchildren and yours. If you are healthy and able bodied, look for a helping hand at the end of your arm and not to the government for handouts or to solve your problems (end of sermon).
IT’S NOT COAL OR NO COAL – IT’S COAL OR NO ENERGY
The legislature passed a comprehensive energy bill, Senate Substitute for HB 2014, overwhelmingly which contains the following provisions:
- Enact a new law requiring fuel efficiency for state owned and leased space, cars and equipment
- Amend existing law to deregulate large electric cooperatives
- Enact renewable energy standards
- Create the net metering and easy connection act
- Amend the Kansas Air Quality act to comply with Federal law.
- Amend the Kansas Electric Transmissions Authority Act to authorize collection of fees
- Enact new timeframes for Kansas Corporation Commission to act on certificates of public convenience.
- Amend existing law regarding entities that store hydrocarbons underground.
- Enact new law creating access by utilities to new base load electric generation capacity
- Require purchase of Kansas coal for any coal fired plants.
- Enact new law creating the Kansas Energy Resources Commission.
As can be seen, this is not the same bill the Governor vetoed last session, although certain parts of that bill are included. A huge amount of work by both chambers has produced legislation which will assure that Kansas will be energy sufficient and an exporter rather then having to import electricity from neighboring states. It also commits us to work diligently toward the development of renewable resources and it restores regulatory certainty so important for economic growth and development. It also creates 2,400 construction and 400 well paying jobs in Western Kansas where they’re desperately needed.
The Governor has threatened to veto the bill in spite of all the added features because she objects to the carbon emissions by the proposed Sunflower plant. This means we’ll need to buy electricity from other states, and they’ll have the jobs and tax revenue (Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado are all building coal fired plants.) The House came within one vote of overriding the veto last year, the Senate is veto proof. We’ll see the eventual outcome at the end of April.
A SLIGHT MISCALCULATION
When HB 2014 came to the floor I expected a lengthy and protracted debate considering a less contentious bill took at least one half hour to be ready for final action. It seemed a good time to take a kidney break, freshen up and have a bite to eat. Not expecting to go to the well for a comment, I left the floor. When I returned 15 minutes later, the bill had passed 79-48 without my vote. I fully support this measure. If it becomes law no harm’s been done, if it is vetoed I’ll have another chance to vote. My perfect attendance record is still intact.
A FEW NO VOTES
I opposed HB 2260, a bill regulating home inspectors as one more establishment of another bureaucracy, and also:
- HB 2155 establishing a land bank
- HB2324 a tax increase
- HB 2130 seat belt mandate
I believe absolutely in seatbelts but having police stop you for the sole purpose of checking whether you wear yours and fining you $60 if you’re not is too much. They bill failed 56-64, the others passed.
A GRANT FOR ERNIE MILLER PARK
The Kansas Department awarded a grant to the Ernie Miller Nature Center’s Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site for the design and signage in the butterfly garden. It is well worth a visit.
VOTE APRIL 7
Municipal and school board elections are most important. The decisions made by these officials affect you directly. I generally do not endorse candidates but I have given permission to some to use my name if they feel it might help them get elected. If you want to know my choices and why I would prefer for them to be elected send me an e-mail. Please vote Monday or Tuesday.
THE NEXT NEWSLETTER…
…will be published after the veto session which ends May 9th. Please keep in touch in the meanwhile with firstname.lastname@example.org. I solicit your input.
THE LAST WORD
Even if a man is most gifted, if he is arrogant and miserly, then the rest of his qualities are not worthy of admiration.
Confucius, the Analects